Let’s call it “Day One” of the Durban climate change talks.
Ministers and heads of delegations are now engaged and they’ll make decisions where their minions could not over the past week and a half.
In truth, even the ministers must take instructions from their capitals – instructions that, I’m told, sometimes come down after high-level pressure has been applied by one powerful country or another (I couldn’t possibly say who) along the lines of, “back off” or “support our position, or you’ll lose your aid funding next year.”
I couldn’t possibly say for sure. But let’s not be cynical.
Let’s say instead, as Britain’s man here Chris Huhne did, that there’s everything to play for. He’s right because there’s nothing of any substance on the table. Yet.
Europe leads the few developed countries willing to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012. But the EU won’t sign on unless big developing countries not governed by Kyoto agree to future talks about a future emissions treaty – a so-called Roadmap.
The likes of China and India aren’t keen. Among the world’s biggest polluters today, they feel that since they didn’t cause global warming in the past, they shouldn’t have to pay for it now.
I asked Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s clearly very passionate and none too discreetly cross climate commissioner, whether she was happy to be issuing ultimatums that risk the loss of the only legal treaty available to the world to build on in future.
She replied that an extension of Kyoto would only govern 15 per cent of the world’s polluters anyway – Japan, Russia and Canada have already abandoned it the United States never even ratified the treaty – the other 85 per cent, she said, need to be made to do more.
It all seems like pretty desperate stuff.
A result that leads to the loss of Kyoto, however meagre a second commitment period would be, would also cast developing country opposition to a future treaty in stone.
Future emissions cuts would be guided by no more than individual, voluntary pledges formalised last year in Cancun. They fall far short of the agreed goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius. There is no plan to strengthen them before the end of the decade.
There’s plenty of admonishing going on.
John ‘Two Jags’ Prescott, the former British deputy prime minister, says it’s disgusting rich countries like Canada aren’t prepared to do their bit.
Pretty much everyone is disgusted with the Americans. No change there.
But here’s a really withering critique, from the environment minister of Bangladesh, who told me the big countries, including China and India, need to understand that we’re all in the same sinking ship.
“They may be travelling first class and we are in third class,” said Dr Hasan Mahmud. “But we’re all going down together.”
That said, he told me Durban is one of the most lovely coastal cities he’s seen. His own coastal areas are being swallowed up by a rising sea.
With no obvious sign of breakthrough, the search is on for something to call a success by the end of Friday.
Nice weather we’re having here in Durban.